Olympus Pen EE-3

Olympus Pen EE-3 Review – A Weekend in Prague – by John Hanson

The Olympus Pen EE-3 has become my go-to travel camera, though the hardest decision for me when taking any trip is deciding which camera to take. Many of you reading this will share this problem I’m sure. I manage to get away so infrequently that it seems a wasted opportunity if I don’t get some memorable photographs out of the trip.

So, which camera to take? There are the old favourites of course, the stalwarts that can be relied upon in any situation. If I were to play it safe then the decision would be made right there, but when you’re taking a break from your normal daily life, is it not more exciting to take a break from your normal daily camera? Next comes the latest eBay purchase. The camera that life (or at least those 5 minutes) wasn’t worth living without. Perfect, right? Wrong… It’s the dreaded unknown. What a shame it would be to take something untested and discover it leaks light like a sieve or chews up your film. Besides which, you haven’t yet found a replacement for that battery they stopped making in the 80’s.

Ok, so how about the exotica? The obscure and complicated camera that’s at least 70 years old. Sure, it’s beautiful to behold and you love it more than you love most of your immediate family members, but it’s utterly impractical – so it’s out. Perhaps it would just be better to take the full SLR kit with 18 lenses and a tripod, but once I’ve packed my underpants and toothbrush there’s just no way it’s going in my carry on luggage. Such are the problems of a gearhead. In the end then, there’s only one thing to do: relinquish control. Give yourself over to the fates and hope for the best. Enter the Olympus Pen EE-3.

Olympus Pen EE-3 camera top view

The internet is abound with facts and figures about the EE-3, so I won’t repeat too much. Simply know that this little half-frame beauty is tiny, requires no batteries, has a fixed focus 28mm lens, is whisper-quiet in operation, and can cram 72 shots on to your 36 exposure roll. The only equipment required for successful operation is your eyesight and a finger, preferably your own. Add to that list the fact that it feels nicely weighted and balanced to use, I can see through the bright viewfinder with my glasses on, it slips in to even the most diminutive pocket, and is about as intimidating as a kitten, and I think we have a winner. Onwards then, to Prague!

Prague airport cafe with the Olympus Pen EE-3

Before I’ve even boarded the plane, the little EE-3 proves its worth as I grab this shot of a chap in the airport cafe. There was just something about the light, and the repetition of shape and shadow that made me take this picture. Having the right camera helped too. Under normal circumstances I’d have felt self-conscious pointing a camera at a stranger, but with the EE-3 it seemed so simple. All I had to do was point and shoot. The camera is so small it went unnoticed, and the near silent click of the shutter drew no attention. I simply put the camera back in my pocket and drank my tea.

Prague itself provides plenty of opportunity for whatever genre of photography floats your boat. The ancient and modern architecture, historical sights, and thousands of people going about their lives create a rich and varied tapestry through which to weave. For me however one of the most unexpected surprises of the trip was the sheer number of ancient Eastern Bloc cars wheezing around the city, driven almost exclusively by ancient, wheezing, Eastern Bloc gentlemen. I love vintage cars for (more or less) all the same reasons as I love vintage cameras, and the amount of cars I photographed on this trip provides testament to my unashamed petrolhead status.

Cars in Prague with the Olympus Pen EE-3

City Square with Olympus Pen EE-3

couple kissing with the Olympus Pen EE-3

Prague city view with the Olympus Pen EE-3

Wafting through the city with no particular aim or destination threw the Olympus Pen EE-3 in to a variety of lighting situations. Ancient castle interiors, views across the city, and lovers on a bridge all captured for posterity. Embracing the idea of relinquishing control meant letting the EE-3 do it’s thing while I enjoyed the moments unfolding around me. Whatever the camera thought best was alright by me, and in the end the fates smiled upon me. Though such a simple camera has its limitations, almost every shot I came back with was a keeper. The exposures were generally good, and if I’d bothered to use the exposure-lock feature of the camera in tricky lighting situations, they might well have been even better. The pictures are a little grainy at times, which is likely due to a combination of a half frame negative size and expired film, but I don’t mind that. I think it suits the location.

In the end then, I think the Olympus Pen EE-3 was the right choice of camera for this trip. There are other cameras that could have achieved the same thing just as well, but that’s missing the point. As a camera geek it’s so easy to be lost in the world of gear, or to expend so much thought in capturing a moment on film that you miss the experience for yourself. This little camera provided an antidote to all of that. It’s a camera that simply gets out of your way and delivers results. It’s as intuitive to use as the hand that holds it, and certainly more pleasant to look at. After a single trip, the EE-3 has been promoted to a firm favourite, a stalwart you might say, and the whole process starts over again.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post you can find more of my film photography on my here on my blog, or  here on Instagram

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14 thoughts on “Olympus Pen EE-3 Review – A Weekend in Prague – by John Hanson”

  1. brian nicholls

    Hello John,
    What a beautiful set of memories you’ve captured here. What more do you really need as a visual notebook? My weapon of choice is the bottom of the range XA1 (check out my recent post). The slr with array of lenses, filters, tripod and gadget bag is ok for special/paid assignments (been there, done it and got the T shirt) but, capturing the essence of the moment is best done with one of these ‘fast handling’ Olympus jobbies with a selenium cell. To limit yourself is to buy your freedom. Oh yes, and then there’s the O/Trip but, that’s another story!!

    1. Cheers Brian. Any of the little Zuiko Olympus cameras are fabulous in my experience. I really like being able to squeeze so many shots from a roll with this EE3, and I totally agree with you that there’s freedom in limitation. Too much choice is often counter-productive. The Trip 35 was one of my first cameras, a long time before I got the EE3 and I was always amazed at what it was capable of. Obviously some focus limitations in lower light, but generally excellent. I’ll head over and read your post now. Take care!

  2. A great HF camera and some lovely shots. The format that people keep forgetting about but with the right film it’s amazing how good the images come out providing they are not blown up too much.

    1. Agreed, half frame is a great format for this kind of thing. As 6×4 holiday snaps they work perfectly. Thanks for reading!

  3. Lovely images, this was obviously a very good choice for your trip! Less is more. You have a very good eye!

    1. @colinrobinphoto

      Nice pics. I love cars too. I can’t help myself, practically every roll I develop has a photo of a car. I try not to, but man I can’t stop.

      Btw, what film did you use?

      1. Cheers Colin. One (more) thing I’m missing during lockdown is classic car shows. I’m hoping to take my old Box Tengor along to some if we make it out of this madness in time for any shows! As for film, I don’t remember precisely but I’m almost sure it would be Poundland Kodak Colorplus 200, from the good old days!

    2. Lovely shots.
      I have a beautiful canon demi which is half frame. Everything works fine except the number of shots doesn’t budge! I’m praying it still works as HF is brilliant for travel

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